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 Wednesday, 8 January, 2003, 09:37 GMT
Analysis: pressure on US pays off
A North Korean soldier at a border watchtower
North Korea's isolation makes diplomacy difficult

South Korean pressure on the United States to be more flexible over North Korea has paid off with a shift of emphasis in the American position.

After a meeting in Washington of the United States, South Korea and Japan in the Trilateral Co-ordination and Oversight group on Korea, a statement said that "The United States is willing to talk to North Korea about how it will meet its international obligations."

South Korea has been urging the United States not to threaten the North but to talk to it.

However, the Bush administration is still refusing to offer any concessions to ease the way to talks. The statement went on: "The United States will not provide any quid pro quos to North Korea to live up to its existing obligations."

South Korea has been urging the United States not to threaten the North but to talk to it. The South sees gains from negotiations and none from confrontations.

It is only too aware of the North Korean guns, possibly armed with chemical weapons, which are in range of its own capital Seoul.

The United States will not provide any quid pro quos to North Korea to live up to its existing obligations."

US State Dept

Predictably, the North has kept up its hostile rhetoric, saying the United States was "working hard to bring the holocaust of a nuclear war to the Korean nation".

Such propaganda does not impress experts who are used to this kind of talk. Dr Keith Howard, lecturer in Korean studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, said: "This is what North Korea does".

The problem still remains as to how any talks will start.

The United States insists that North Korea must not be rewarded for breaking the 1994 agreement under which it promised to give up its nuclear weapons programme in exchange for two civilian reactors to be built by foreign contractors.

The North wants assurances from the US that it will not be attacked.

Step too far?

The South's proposal is reportedly that the North would give up its nuclear weapons ambitions in exchange for a promise by the United States to resume shipments of fuel oil which is supposed to tide North Korea over until its energy problems are solved.

There might also be a pledge from the United States not to attack North Korea.

This would fall short of the non-aggression pact which North Korea is demanding, but it might meet the need of the North Koreans for a re-assurance on their future.

This might be a step too far for the United States in its present mood.

According to Dr Howard, the North Koreans misjudged the new American administration.

Washington clearly does not want this to become a major crisis, let alone a war, at a time when war is possible, probably even, against Iraq.

"The hawks in the Bush administration are very different animals from those (in the Clinton administration) who negotiated the '94 agreements ", he said "They don't feel they need to compromise".

At the same time, Washington clearly does not want this to become a major crisis, let alone a war, at a time when war is possible, probable even, against Iraq.

Mr Bush has emphasised that he has no intention of attacking North Korea. "I believe it will be resolved peacefully", he said.

The United States is content to .... have this issue go into the Security Council which will multilaterise the confrontation and turn it into the world against North Korea

Marcus Noland

According to Marcus Noland of the International Institute for Economics in Washington, Mr Bush was aiming to reassure the South Koreans with this remark.

The world versus North Korea

Marcus Noland also thinks that Washington is willing to let the problem be dealt with internationally for the moment: "The United States is content to temporise... and ultimately have this issue go into the Security Council which will multilaterise the confrontation and turn it into the world against North Korea".

The North has also warned that sanctions would mean war.

Sanctions are a possibility because the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose monitors have been ordered out of North Korea, has given the North a final chance to comply with the 1994 agreement.

If it does not, the issue might be passed to the Security Council.


Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

TALKING POINT
See also:

03 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
02 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
01 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
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